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Late State Maps Can Mess With Member Plans

Some House Members will be facing a tough choice later this cycle once their states’ new Congressional maps are finished: For them, it’s either up or out.

Depending on how the boundaries are redrawn in their respective House districts, running for statewide office might be a better option than trying to run for re-election.

It’s a particularly vital interest for Republicans, who are largely playing offense this cycle with 23 Senate seats held by Democrats on the ballot.

The GOP is still seeking top candidate recruits in Washington, West Virginia, Michigan and Pennsylvania — states that are all expected to finish their Congressional maps late in the game.

However, it’s also a consideration for Democrats, who are still looking for a top-tier challenger to Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.).

“The House delegation is one of the first places recruiters go for a number of reasons. A lot of Members in the House don’t pursue a Senate run until redistricting, and then they’re faced with not seeking re-election, challenging another incumbent or pursuing a Senate seat that may be available,” said Chris LaCivita, a Republican consultant who worked at the National Republican Senatorial Committee last cycle and after the last redistricting process in 2002.

Earlier this month, Reps. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and Todd Akin (R-Mo.) opted to run for Senate instead of seek re-election after the maps were finished in their home states.

But while Donnelly and Akin had the luxury of Congressional maps completed early in the cycle, their colleagues might not be so lucky. Many states are not required to finish their maps until late this year or even early next year — including key states such as Florida, Minnesota, New Jersey and Washington.

Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.), a frequently mentioned candidate for statewide office, seemed more interested in staying put on the Ways and Means Committee than running statewide next year. But the matter is largely out of Reichert’s hands because a bipartisan redistricting committee will redraw the lines in his state, which will get one new House seat this cycle.

“I’m hearing rumors that they’re trying to have four strong ‘D’ districts and 4 strong ‘Rs,’ and then two that are competitive districts,” Reichert said in an interview with Roll Call last week. “Whatever happens, happens, is kind of my attitude.”

In Pennsylvania, Republican Reps. Jim Gerlach and Charlie Dent have all but ruled out a bid against Sen. Bob Casey (D). In the small chance that redistricting significantly changes their House districts, either would be an attractive recruit to run for Senate.

Arizona, Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan and New York have no official due date for finishing their Congressional maps — other than they must be completed before the 2012 cycle.

It’s a tough call for the Senate campaign committees, which try to recruit the best candidates as early as possible. There’s no doubt that Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) would be the GOP’s preferred candidate to run against Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) in 2012.

But there’s not even a deadline for finishing a Congressional map in West Virginia — and in the meantime, Capito told Roll Call that she is “keeping her options open” for a statewide run. She said she’ll have “plenty of time” to decide before the January filing deadline.

“I think the opportunity to run for statewide office is something that I’m interested in. At this point, I haven’t made a decision on that,” she said. “I just have to see where I am, see what my supporters would like me to do. See what the landscape is going to be in 2012. I think it’s just a little too early to predict.”

Similarly, Democrats are waiting to see whether one of the House Democrats from Massachusetts will opt to run for Senate. The Bay State is losing one House seat in 2012, but all nine Members have said they’ll run for re-election — which means at least one of them will be out of a job next cycle until they move on.

Rep. Stephen Lynch (D), who has been mentioned as a possible Senate candidate, said he’s “not particularly” looking at running against Brown, but he doesn’t plan on making a final decision for a long time.

“I don’t make any decision until I absolutely have to. There’s a lot of time,” he told Roll Call. “If I have several months, why would you make a decision now when you’ll have more information four months from now, and still be able to make a decision?”

Then there’s the worst-case scenario for the Senate race recruiters: House Members foiled by redistricting who decide late in the cycle they will run for Senate and create a competitive primary.

That could be the case in either Florida, where unpredictable redistricting could push a Republican House Member into an already-crowded GOP primary to challenge Sen. Bill Nelson (D).

The same is true in Virginia, where state lawmakers are pondering major changes to the district currently held by Rep. Bobby Scott (D). Scott  has not ruled out running against former Gov. Tim Kaine in the Democratic primary for Senate.

Either way, it wouldn’t be the first time a House Member made the choice to move up instead of out.

After the redistricted maps were finished in Georgia in 2002, then-Rep. Saxby Chambliss (R) found himself in a tough predicament when the Democratic-controlled Legislature moved his home into Rep. Jack Kingston’s (R) district.

Instead of facing off with his GOP colleague, Chambliss began an underdog bid against Democratic Sen. Max Cleland and eventually won with 53 percent of the vote.

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